Article (October-2017)


The art and science of workplace relationship

Anuj Kathuria

Designation : -   Vice President & Head - Strategic Projects

Organization : -  CoE - Learning and Development, Reliance Industries Limited, Navi Mumbai


My professional journey became a lot smoother post I implemented in my work life - The Trust Equation & SOCIAL STYLES across all my relationships - be it with my seniors, stakeholders, peers or subordinates and learnt the art of managing up, down and with peers.
Trust equation
A trusted relationship with co - workers, seniors and subordinates is a critical factor to our success. Trust forms the foundation of our credibility, reputation and personal brand. Simply put, the best way to maintain a trusted working relationship with our teams and seniors is to move away from breaking trust in the first place. Easier said than done, trust is a term that means different things to different people. Trust is not easily or readily given, rather it must be earned over time. Most or all of us are aware whether we can trust someone or not. In - fact, we can name the people who we trust, and easily remember those who have broken our trust.
The Trust Equation is a model by Charles H Green - A Harvard business school graduate who developed a descriptive model for how trust works in a business relationship.
The Trust Equation combines four components of trust :
Credibility - the words we say, the credentials we bring, and the way in which people experience us makes people trust us.
Reliability - the actions we take, our predictability, and the ways in which people find us makes people trust us.
Intimacy - the extent to which people feel they can confide in us, perceive us as discreet and empathetic makes people trust us.
Self - orientation - the more people feel we are focused on ourselves, rather than on them, the less they trust us. By contrast, the more people feel we are focused on them, rather than on ourselves, the more they trust us.
The Trust Equation combines these four components into a formula that measures trustworthiness. 
The greater the level of credibility or reliability or intimacy one has with a stakeholder/superior/peers/subordinates or the smaller the level of self - orientation, then the greater the level trust in the relationship. The arithmetic of the Trust Equation suggests that self - orientation plays an outsized role. By placing it in the denominator, it carries three times the weight of each of the other factors in the numerator. This is intentional : a perceived lack of caring or inattention (i.e. high self - orientation) is more harmful than lower scores in the remaining trust components (i.e. credibility, reliability, intimacy).
Social styles
SOCIAL STYLEs by TRACOM group is an objective framework for observing, understanding, and anticipating an individual's behaviour. It is one of the most useful ways to get to know another person, which comes from observing and understanding that person's behaviour. We regularly use our own observation about an individual's behaviour in an interpersonal situation as a means of making useful judgments about that person. The behaviours we observe are what form that person's SOCIAL STYLE. To manage relationships successfully, we must learn to focus on their behaviour in a more objective fashion and anticipate their behaviour in our interactions with them. SOCIAL STYLES should not be confused with a person's personality, but rather those behaviours that we can see, discuss, and agree upon.
The SOCIAL STYLES Model relies on the observation of behaviours. The fact that people differ in their SOCIAL STYLES can lead to poor communications and tension in a relationship. That tension is present to some degree in virtually any relationship.  Managing that tension productively is key to successful interactions and managing both upwards and downwards. Understanding SOCIAL STYLES and adapting your behaviour to make the other person more comfortable is an important way to keep the tension at an appropriate level. SOCIAL STYLES is a means to recognize these differences and see them as just that - different, not as better or worse. Having said that, the question that pops up in my mind is - How do we manage our working relationships better? I would like to divide this into two main categories : Managing upwards  and Managing downwards.
Managing upwards
Managing upward relationships is the art of consciously improving collaboration/relationship with superiors so that we & our subordinates can reap the best personal and organizational results. Here's what I mean when I talk about managing up. Managing up is about learning how to work within the confines of an organization to get what you need, while helping your boss and the organization meet their objectives. It's about managing your boss so you can get the resources you need for your people/team to be successful. Sounds pretty simple, but it is indeed tough. It's an art that needs a lot of practice.
A key thing that has almost always worked with me is to put myself in my bosses or other senior stakeholder's shoes and then look and think from their perspective. Bottom line, I always think about what I can do to make my boss look better in the eyes of his boss and other key stakeholders. Managing up is not about trying to become the boss's favourite, nor is it about blind followership. The stronger your relationship is with your boss, and those above you, the more likely your requests and needs will be honoured. Managing successful relationships is the coinage of all business. Your boss can open doors for you. He/she can also make sure they remain closed.
I've known people who've built extremely strong relationships with those above them. Their bosses rely on them heavily, which is why they receive the plum assignments, and are first in line for promotions. As a boss/reporting manager, we put most of our energy into overseeing the work of others. Now imagine how it must feel to have an employee who makes you look good and makes your job easy. Most likely, you'd do whatever you could to keep this person by your side, especially as you move up the corporate ladder. Figuring out our senior's SOCIAL STYLE is essential for our own success, but it can be tricky to know just what our senior's means and what they want. The sooner you decode your boss/senior's, the faster you'll be able to build a relationship that will help you manage up, down, and across the organization. I have had multiple reporting managers and senior stakeholders in my career. Per SOCIAL STYLES model, some were analytical, majority were driving, a few expressive and a few amiable. To manage and nurture healthy working relationships, I had to build in versatility in my behaviour to cater to the specific orientation of the SOCIAL STYLE I am dealing with. Mind you, it is not easy, as all of us have our own individualistic SOCIAL STYLE and that might or might not be a match with the one of our seniors. It took a lot of time for me to observe the traits and behaviours of my boss's/seniors and then adapt to their style. The effort was herculean; however, it did yield a lot of fruits for me. To sum it up, I would say a blend of trust equation married with SOCIAL STYLES application helps manage upwards both effectively and efficiently.
Managing downwards
Our # 1 job is to make people want to work with us. If you're ever faced with a work decision, use that measuring stick first by asking if your response makes someone want to work with you more, less, or the same. As a manager, we need to engage people, not force our team to get the best results. People work best when they feel valued, not pushed and ordered. Think about what you want people to say about you as a leader when they no longer report to you. Then, work backwards. For example, if you want your employees to say, "My boss really listened to me", then consider what you can do today to create an environment where your people feel heard.  As a first time manager, more than a decade ago, I struggled and I struggled badly to get my team to deliver the expected performance. I was very lucky to have a mentor, who helped me understand the mistakes I was committing. Surprisingly, I had a very good relationship with each of my team members; still, I struggled to get the expected yield. 
My biggest learning at that time was expectation management. I learnt the importance of setting clear expectations of the work and the quality of output/deliverables with my team. Micro management doesn't work and ends up frustrating and irritating team members. Being crystal clear about what people have to do and what their accountabilities are makes the job much easier. Having a shared vision while managing down is the very critical. It is like, every spoke in the wheel knowing what his/her contribution is in making the wheel move.
Managing downwards requires a lot of grit and hard work. It not just about work allocation, driving, directing and reviews. In my opinion, it begins with rapport building to establishing trust to being trustworthy. It is imperative to understand the strengths of your team and do work allocation accordingly. We can't expect a plumber to do an electricians job with finesse. Managing down involves learning how your team works. You may be stressing them out because you've never taken the time to understand how they work. A great manager needs little authority to make someone do his or her bidding. It's far more valuable to understand how to approach your direct reports…even if you don't have that many.
You need to live what you expect from your team. I learnt about the concept of BLEED from my mentor - you are going to make a mistake - own that mistake and do everything you can to make things right. You should not, of course, intentionally create problems but it's pretty safe to say that problems will come. If you are the type of person who never blames others nor covers things up then people will notice (consciously or not) and want to work with you. Taking ownership is the key here. One of the most critical tenets of managing down is feedback, review and having courageous conversations. Again, if one has spent time in established a trusted relationship with subordinates, having a courageous conversation becomes easy. Again the conversation has to map to the SOCIAL STYLE of the incumbent in concern. Managing downwards needs one to build the skill of being an effective listener. 
In summation, I would say, managing upwards and downwards is an art and science. The art element comes with a lot of practice and focus. Relationship Building, SOCIAL STYLES and effective communication are the key skills that help foster the professional journey. Successful people ensure lack of toxicity. When working relationship tension gets too high, it is likely that people engage in back - up behavior, an exaggerated form of their style - leading to toxicity. Wise investment in learning the art of building relationships, establishing trust, applying social styles and adapting my communication to the audience have helped me as a professional grow, taste success and successfully manage both upwards and downwards.